Project near Milpas Street corridor is designed for people who want to walk and bicycle downtown

By Joshua Molina, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @JECMolina | June 21, 2017 | 8:24 p.m.

A three-story, 50-unit apartment project is headed for Santa Barbara, the latest development under the city’s controversial Average Unit-Size Density Incentive Program.

The project is envisioned at 835 E. Canon Perdido St., near the corner of Milpas Street at the site of the former McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams’ Old Dairy facility.

The developers plan to demolish 17,200 square feet of one- and two-story commercial and industrial buildings in favor of 26 two-bedroom units, four one-bedroom units, and 20 studio units.

The project will include 51 covered parking spaces, 50 covered bicycle spaces, a 1,181-square-foot rooftop deck and solar panels. The proposal has worked its way through the city planning process, and got feedback from the Planning Commission in March and from the Architectural Board of Review on Monday.

The ABR members gave the project positive feedback, but asked the architect to make a few more tweaks, including planting more trees on the perimeter of the building, varying window sizes and canopies, and providing “more consistency in the architectural character” of the art-deco-designed building.

The high-density residential apartment project comes at a time when Santa Barbara is wrestling with a less than 0.5-percent rental vacancy rate and escalating housing prices.

Since Santa Barbara approved the AUD program in 2013 as a way to encourage developers to build apartments and affordable housing, the city has seen a flurry of proposals, many of which have rankled the community.

The city has approved 317 of the medium and high-density units, with 470 more in the pipeline. Under the AUD program so far, 165 building permits have been issued.

“We felt that this was one that would be supported by the community,” said John Blair, one of the owners of the proposed project. “It’s got a lot of proximity to the Milpas corridor, the (Santa Barbara) Bowl and just downtown in general.”

The residential apartment boom has sparked wide community debate and pit traditional slow-growth Santa Barbara against a wave of developers looking to dramatically reshape and modernize the city to appeal to millennials, many of whom choose to rent rather than own, and want to live in housing near downtown.

Critics contend that the apartment projects never provide enough parking spaces for the number of people living at the sites and that the additional people and units further put a strain on water resources, while thickening traffic congestion on city streets.

Proponents, however, say that the city’s high cost of living is exacerbated by the lack of housing supply, and that smart, well-designed high-density developments can easing the housing crunch for everyone.

Blair said at a Planning Commission meeting that he believes the project fits well into the community.

“I own a few other apartment buildings in town and I would say the primary driver for my tenants is the ability to walk to services, movies, restaurants or to work, hopefully. If they work downtown they can bike. We feel like this property is in a location where this can all happen,” Blair said.

He said the project will appeal to many demographics.

“Walkability is a really big trend nationally and we try to look at what is going on in other urban areas to see what people like,” Blair said. “Whether it is millennials or empty nesters it seems to be what people want right now.”

In response to the Planning Commission and ABR feedback, the architects, RRM Design, took the height of the building down from 38 feet to 36 feet. The height of the current McConnell’s building is 29 feet.

The project also will remove some of the 15-minute parking spaces on the street and add on-street parking.

“This particular project is really good,” said planning commissioner Michael Jordan. “This is a really nice looking project in a part of town that could be redeveloped.”

— Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at jmolina@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.